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Finishing an Ipe handle


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My father has a stash of Ipe that he's been holding onto for some years now and he's offered it up to be used as knife handles. I've never seen Ipe used for anything other than decks and picnic tables, so I don;t know how it will look when carved to shape, but assuming a test piece looks decent, what do you suppose I should finish it with?


I realize that Ipe is about as inert as a wood can get, so it likely requires no finishing, but it seems like something should be used. perhaps tung oil? If you got any experience with this or any thoughts, I'mm more than open to them. If Ipe is a poor choice for some reason, I'm not dedicated to the idea of using it. I'm just researching some readily available options.





Have you ever thought about the life of steel? It's interesting to think that you can control the fate of a piece of metal.

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I havent had the chance to try any myself, but I snagged a bunch of board cuttoffs out of the dumpster from a jobsite I was on a few years back, so I have a good little stash of the stuff.


I have sanded down a piece of it to see what it looked like and I can say that its nothing too special in terms of appearance. If you are looking for some highly figured and really pretty wood, the ipe probably isnt going to be it. It is some really tough stuff though, like you mentioned the elements don't bother it too much and doesnt really require any formal finishing. I was going to use it for some of the blades that will be heavy users, and out in the elements.


As for finishing I'd say experiment around with it and see what different looks different finishes produce. I'd probably just give it an oil finish with tung or linseed, or wax it. I don't think stains will do to much to enhance the appearance.


Let me know what you try and how it turns out.

Graham Fredeen

ABS Apprentice

Professional Knifemakers Association

~Fredeen Blades~

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Thanks for the input. I'll have to finish a few pieces and see how the "client" likes the finish. The knife is for a good buddy of mine. His father in law is a carpenter, so we can get some "useless" pieces of some pretty oddball woods. I've got no idea what route we'll take, but there is no big hurry for the knife. Hunting season won't open for him for another 10 months.

Have you ever thought about the life of steel? It's interesting to think that you can control the fate of a piece of metal.

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Personally, I like ipe--I have an octagonal bo staff made out of it that I bought for my martial arts training. It's heavy, with a tight, simple grain and it turns pretty dark with oil. It's surprisingly softer than I expected, but still holds up pretty well. I suppose it depends on what the theme of the knife is--a pretty knife is probably going to need something fancy like curly maple or ironwood burl, but a utilitarian knife would look good with simple, durable ipe--at least, that's how I see it **shrugs**

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Don't sand or saw it :excl: At least make sure you don't breathe any Ipe dust.


- Ipe is dense and oily and doesn't take glue well

- the oil is toxic. Avoid it.

- Ipe dust is extremely fine

- It sticks to everything and is very difficult to clean off

- Ipe is very hard on tools as it contains silica (sand). Imagine throwing fine sand in your tools..

- The silica in Ipe will try to make its way into your lungs and cause all kinds of lung diseases later on.

- Your usual dust collector and filtration system is not sufficient for dealing with Ipe!!!


Most sawmills aren't equipped to cut Ipe. The ones that are look like space labs. Full body protection and respirators are required, and special enclosed filtration systems are used to keep the dust under control.


THat said, ENJOY!!!


Actually it's not all that bad. I recommend using hand tools mostly, and wear gloves to prevent allergic reactions from the oil or splinters. If you do have to saw it, use the best respirator with the finest filter you can find.

Prep glue joints with denatured alcohol to remove as much oil from the surfaces as possible.

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